S.E.C. Out-of-Conference Scheduling, Revisited

Last Thursday, while commenting on the improvement of Pac-10 scheduling in 2007, Tightwad (no, not Clark Howard) had this to say:

We'll soon take a closer look at the courageous scheduling choices of other BCS conferences, including the Mighty SEC, which will undoubtedly lead the weenie list again in 2007.

I freely admit that, as an S.E.C. homer, I may have been a bit irritable when that tag line came across the wire; that same day, after all, The Lawgiver had alluded to the existence of "much crowing about speed and pressure and blah blah from slack-jawed yokel country" in the aftermath of the national championship game . . . as though Florida somehow had a higher redneck quotient than Ohio.

Accordingly, I responded with a lengthy diatribe defending the S.E.C.'s scheduling practices, which only began to decline after the conference championship game was instituted and which now are on the rise once more.

Enter Jonathan Tu, the California-based weblogger whose Onion-style sports musings include a funny piece on Calvin Johnson and an adult content advisory-accompanied yet hilarious report on Mark Richt.

Jonathan had a question---a serious one, not a sarcastic one---and it went a little something like this:

When is Georgia's next OOC game outside of the SEC states?

It was a fair question, to which there is a good answer. By now, everyone has heard repeated ad infinitum the datum that the 'Dawgs have not played a regular-season road game outside of the boundaries of the Old Confederacy since facing Michigan in Ann Arbor on October 2, 1965. How long ago was that? It was so long ago that Joe Paterno was not yet the head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions.

Fortunately, that historical tidbit will be rendered obsolete on September 20, 2008, when the Red and Black will play Arizona State in Tempe or Glendale or wherever the heck the Sun Devils are playing their home games these days. Less than a year later, on September 5, 2009, the Bulldogs will open the season in Stillwater against Oklahoma State.

In fact, over the course of the next nine seasons, the Classic City Canines will play six out-of-conference road games against B.C.S. conference teams other than Georgia Tech. The 'Dawgs are scheduled to travel to Colorado in 2010, to Louisville in 2012, to Clemson in 2013, and to Oregon in 2015.

This represents not only a welcome departure from the Red and Black's recent aversion to cross-sectional scheduling, but also a long overdue resumption of Georgia's historic practice of taking on teams from around the country. As I noted a year ago:

[I]n the 50 years from 1916 to 1965, the Red and Black played 36 regular season contests in areas of the country outside the South. (For purposes of this discussion, I am treating games played in Texas and in Virginia as being inside the region and considering games played in Maryland and in Oklahoma to have taken place outside the region. Reasonable people may disagree over that definition of Southern geographic boundaries, but, to this great-great-grandson of a Confederate veteran, drawing the lines in that fashion seems appropriate.)

During the half-century culminating with the most recent Georgia-Michigan game in Vince Dooley's second season on the Sanford Stadium sideline, the Bulldogs faced Navy at Annapolis (in 1916), Harvard at Cambridge (in 1921), Chicago at Chicago (in 1922), Yale at New Haven (in 1923, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1930, 1931, 1933, and 1934), N.Y.U. at New York City (in 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, and 1939), Southern Cal at Los Angeles (in 1931, 1933, and 1960), Fordham at New York City (in 1936), Holy Cross at Boston (in 1937) and at Worcester (in 1938), Columbia at New York City (in 1940 and 1941), Cincinnati at Cincinnati (in 1942), Temple at Philadelphia (in 1946), Oklahoma State (then Oklahoma A&M) at Stillwater (in 1947), St. Mary's at San Francisco (in 1950), Boston College at Boston (in 1950), Penn at Philadelphia (in 1952), Villanova at Philadelphia (in 1953), Maryland at College Park (in 1953), and Michigan at Ann Arbor (in 1957 and 1965).

Such scheduling shows a sincere commitment to playing teams from around the nation. From 1921 to 1942, the 'Dawgs played at least one road game outside of the South in every autumn except one. The determination to travel outside the region at least once each fall is evident in the way Georgia scheduled the series with Yale. From 1923 to 1934, the Red and Black went to Connecticut in all but two seasons; in 1929, Yale traveled to Athens for the dedicatory game in Sanford Stadium and, in 1932, the two teams did not meet. In both 1929 and 1932, though, the 'Dawgs journeyed to New York City to face New York University.

In the space of 18 seasons, from 1936 to 1953, Georgia fans were able to see their team play a total of 10 games in Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania. By contrast, during the 18 seasons from 1988 to 2005, Georgia fans have been able to see their team play a total of nine games in such exotic locales as Baton Rouge, Fayetteville, and Starkville.

Nowadays, when we rightly disdain the practice of B.C.S. conference powers taking on Division I-AA opponents in rent-a-win payday games, it is easy to look down upon the Ivy League. In the 1920s and 1930s, though, it took more than a little gumption for an upstart Southern school to head north to tangle with the Eastern powers of the day.

At the time of Georgia's 1921 trip to Harvard, the Crimson had a 23-game unbeaten streak that included a win over Oregon in the 1920 Rose Bowl. The touchdown scored by the Bulldogs in their 10-7 loss at Cambridge represented the first points surrendered by Harvard in seven games. The Red and Black's 1936 tie with Fordham's "Seven Blocks of Granite" formed the foundation for Georgia's national reputation in football and it was a real accomplishment for the Bulldogs from Athens to post a 6-5 record against the Bulldogs from New Haven in 11 series meetings with Yale between 1923 and 1934; during that span, the Old Eli squad compiled a 60-25-11 ledger.

Since 1965, the Bulldogs have not traveled beyond what ceased to be a national boundary in 1865. That insular tendency is changing, thanks to the inspired coaching of Mark Richt and the enlightened scheduling of Damon Evans.


In short, I may be overly sensitive upon this issue, because I am a strong advocate of more aggressive scheduling, compiling wish lists of teams I would like to see Georgia play and spearheading "The Movement" to get Michigan on Georgia's slate for a home and home series.

I do not believe poor out-of-conference scheduling is any longer a problem for the S.E.C. as a whole; it is team-specific, not league-wide, and, although the usual suspects (e.g., Arkansas, South Carolina, probably Auburn again) are liable to make the conference look bad, Tennessee's schedule continues to be strong and Georgia's commitment to facing a higher caliber of opposition ought to be clear at this point.

This brings us back to Tightwad, the inadvertent initial instigator of this exchange, who offered this measured and civil reply:

In fairness to the folks at DawgSports, RTT, and everyone else south of the Mason-Dixon, the parting shot we inserted at the tail end of an article about Pac-10 scheduling that was critical of many conference schools was designed to be a bit fresh. We, along with an entire nation, had just watched an SEC team humble the mighty OSU Buckeyes with their Trademark Southern Speed. In this new era of Southern Supremacy, if we can't make quick fun of SEC scheduling, then what's left for us, really? The word "weenie" was injudicious, and its use can be blamed on the deadly combination of scotch, soda and a quick reading of Arkansas' non-conference schedule, which threw us into a bit of a tizzy. Again, all apologies.

SEC non-conference scheduling is improving, and we certainly said nothing in the thirty words that finished our article to indicate otherwise. One can certainly improve from abysmal and still fall short of exemplary. We simply stated our suspicion that the SEC would, once again, have the worst non-conference scheduling among BCS conferences. And we'll be back later this week to see if that suspicion is correct.


That, of course, is entirely fair and I thank Tightwad for his cordial response. I wrote a while back that the key to improved relations between West Coast and East Coast football fans was greater attentiveness and reduced sensitivity; to the extent that I fell short of the latter goal, I apologize to Tightwad for overreacting.

Keep your eye on Tightwad Hill, where his forthcoming detailed assessment of B.C.S. conference scheduling doubtless will be well worth your time and deserving of thoughtful consideration.

Go 'Dawgs!

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